Darkness

We’ve all been there in one way or another. The darkness. Unsure, A little afraid. Or maybe it was worse; we had a sense of dread, maybe evil just around the corner, through the trees.

Maybe you’re somewhere in between; you can see the light off in the distance, but you’re not sure you can cross through the darkness.

By some measure it’s relative; each of us knows the doubt and pain and struggle of our own reality and experience.
The old adage, “…there’s always someone worse off than you…” might be a good way to approach this commonality of humanity.
Consider the homeless.  Consider the abused.  Consider those that don’t have enough to eat; maybe nothing at all to eat.
Consider those displaced by war, terrorized by violence otherwise.  Consider the children, and old people, who can’t get away from the shelling, the bombs, the murderous mobs.
Imagine living in the open, in the cold, in the wet, with no real shelter from the elements.
Consider the suffering. Maybe from mental illness, or disease, or strife otherwise in your life, hounding you, not letting up.
And then consider being nailed to a cross and hung there to die.

Imagine a darkness so deep, unending, leaving your heart black with dispare, nothing to hold you back from the abyss but your pain.

And then consider the love it took to walk toward the cross, accept it. A commitment so complete that it bears witness to God’s love for us, to speak truth to the very end, until the spirit departs.
In the end, I think that’s why they call Good Friday good.
INRI_Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum

The Greatest Lesson – What’s Love Got to Do with It?

“Love one another as I have loved you.”
It’s a simple instruction, really.   And yet so profound.
I remember as a kid listening to the liturgy in church, and part of the opening prayer the pastors used most frequently included this recollection.
The prayer referenced the very clear and direct guidance Jesus provided,
“Love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  The second is like unto it.  Love your neighbor as yourself.”
In New Testament scripture, it describes further the context of this instruction.  Jesus at one point during his ministry, probably more than once, specified that he had new insight to share with respect to God and our relationship with God.
The Jews had the ten commandments of course, and additional laws that had developed over time.
There were hundreds of religious laws, actually.  Jesus essentially said, put those aside.  You need to do two things if you want to be good with God.
Love God.
Love each other.
As he approached his Passion, knowing that suffering and death would soon be visited upon him, he reminded his closest friends what he wanted for them:  that they love each other in the same way that he loved them.
Simple instruction.   And why profound?
My take is that Jesus brought this up one last time to his friends because it was so fundamental to what he believed, what he knew, about the nature of God.  This mandate above all else was what he wanted them to follow, to be closer to each other, and to God.
Jesus’s words still ring true 2,000 years later.  Love God and love each other.  Love as Jesus did.  Love and serve each other.    Everything else follows properly if we do these two fundamental things.
There’s something else too.  Maybe by focusing on this message, re-enforcing these words to his friends, it helped him cope with the difficult road he would soon face, the final passage to his end.
I can imagine an urgency in his voice, insisting they listen, beseeching them to follow this simple instruction.
It’s not easy sometimes, but I’m going to try to listen too, try harder to follow this instruction.
AMEN.
jesuswashesthe12maudythursday
References —
The Greatest Commandments:  Deuteronomy 6:4-7, Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27;  John 13:14–17 (NKJV)

Believe, and Persevere

“The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me, let us appear together.” -Isaiah 50.

The fundamental mindset of mental health survival might be summarized thus: PERSEVERE. You are not alone. BELIEVE. Never give up.

Easier said than done often times, that’s for sure.

What do we do when we feel the slow angst of uncertainty, sense approaching calamity, or suffer chronic misery?

I humbly offer: Faith helps. It fundamentally helps. This approach is the basic tenet I believe Jesus taught us; it’s the approach we can still hear spoken through his lessons from 2,000 years ago, to today.

You are not alone. Believe. Never give up. God is with you. Maybe it’s that last phrase that catches you up. “How do I know God is with me?! How can I be sure? I’m not even sure I believe in God”, you might think to yourself.

There are at least a couple of ways I invite you to think about it.

First, consider God in those people around you, those who love you. It can be a relative, a partner, a spouse, your child, a co-worker (true!), an old friend, a new friend, maybe even a stranger. When you experience a gesture or
expression of love, that is God with you.

Take solace in that experience. Allow it it energize you, fortify you, fill you up. Lean on those people that are closest to you. That’s what we are supposed to do. Be open, be honest, confide, and rely on that connection in the
moments you need it most.

Second, consider God in the quiet of your soul, in your inner-most self. Listen carefully, truly, and take your time. Deep within, you know when you are being honest with yourself, when you are being completely true, and experiencing
truth. I would suggest that prayer — or mediation, or reflection, call it as you wish — this process is the channel we should use to come to this place within ourselves.

Listen carefully, and you will know the truth. And that is where you will find God with you too.

You will realize that you are in fact not alone. That you have the will, and the fortitude, and the strength of spirit to press on, to never give up. PERSEVERE.

UnExpected

These words resonate:
“Sometimes you can see God moving, even when everything is falling apart.” -Jen Fulwiler.
 A comedian and talk show host, Fulwiler made this observation recently; I don’t know her, but her words resonate for me.
I think about betrayal, about one of Jesus’ closest followers deciding to turn him over to his enemies.  Could Jesus have known? If you believe he was divine, he had at least some sense that this is how it play out.
But what does that mean?   What did he feel, knowing…?
I think maybe he had at least a sort of “Spider Sense” (like the Web-Slinger himself), he sensed it was coming, but maybe he didn’t know the exact details.  Jesus predicted as much while eating with his friends.  “One of you will betray me.”
It’s the unexpected part that’s more nuanced.
What comfort did Jesus draw from knowing his suffering and death were imminent?
When was it going to happen?  Who would come?  What would they say?  How would it play out?   I doubt he knew all the details, but Jesus had a sense.
That’s why he went to the garden to pray.  To fortify himself, to prepare, to set his resolve for what lay ahead.
And for us, what can we learn?
How do we deal with the unexpected?    When things end up going sideways, and you find yourself in the middle of a shit storm, then what?
Maybe even a better question is,
“How can we anticipate, how can we be better prepared for the inevitable trials we will face in our lives?”
W.W.J.D.?  “What Would Jesus Do?”
Maybe the common refrain is something we can particularly consider during this Holy Week.  Even better, carry the practice forward throughout the year.
How did he deal with the unexpected?  And where is God in those moments?
More so, where is God RIGHT NOW, and what is he quietly whispering to us?   How is he trying to prepare us for the unexpected?
spidersense
[Gentle Disclaimer:  I mention Spiderman in this piece as a real-world, popular image and reference, not supposing that Spiderman is divine, or that Jesus is comparable to a comic book character.]

Uncertainty

Did he know?
When he was in the garden, on his hands and knees, his forehead against the cool dirt, and tears ran down his face, and sweat oozed like blood from his pores, did he know?
I’m not sure what the answer is. I don’t know what Church doctrine says. I can’t know fur sure, I suppose. None of us can.
I know what I believe. I believe Jesus himself wasn’t sure. That was his humanity. And yet he accepted the cup, his prayer fortified his resolve, and he entered into his Passion.
Hours later he would be tortured, ridiculed, mocked, scorned, and finally nailed to a cross, hung naked to die, for all to see.
Uncertainty.
How do we cope with it? How did Jesus cope with it?
By one account, as Jesus hung there, he cried out, “Father, why have you forsaken me?”
Even near the end, he might have been unsure.
I — we! — as believers, we can only hope that what fortified him earlier that day in the garden, that it also helped him in his final hours, hanging on a tree, waiting to die.
FAITH.    Of the many things we can learn from Jesus (Christian or otherwise, really), one of the most powerful lessons he offers is his faith.
How do we deal with uncertainty?  FAITH.
How many times in the familiar stories we read about Jesus does the account convey, “he went off to pray…”, “he spent the night in prayer…”, “…he prayed together with his friends (disciples), etc.
I’d say that lesson applies to a lot of things in life.  Pause, reflect / pray, have faith.
Severe illness, life-threatening heart condition, struggling marriage, children having difficulties in their development, work life getting you down, coping with end-of-life issues with your parents, and on and on and on…?  FAITH.  Faith helps.
To be clear, I don’t mean that we should casually toss aside taking action; I don’t mean to over-simplify, saying “just have faith” and everything is better.
What I am saying for sure though, is that faith and reflection are a twin elements that are critical to coping and persevering through difficulty. 
Don’t expect mana from Heaven to come down to feed you if you’re hungry;  don’t expect an angel to sweep in and rescue you from your hardship.  But there is a way to fortify yourself to press on, to not give up.
Often times in life we are uncertain as to how to proceed.  Often times we are faced with difficulties we cannot easily overcome, struggles that continue over time.  We don’t know what do to do.  We face uncertainty as to how things will play out.
“Give us this day, our daily bread…”
Do have faith.  Do pray.  You will thus persevere through your uncertainty.
NEVER GIVE UP.

Balancing Retreat

Funny thing about getting unexpected down time – at least for me – I both welcome it, but also end up feeling stalled out, inertia awash, stuck.

Friday was Day Two at home with a sick kid; on the mend she was, is, but all the same, she needed another day to heal up from the flu.   I got more sleep, did a few chores, and otherwise just hung out with my daughter.  I read, she watched cartoons; I did a little work, she worked on a learning app.

Sounds pretty good, right?   A second day of unplanned retreat. Well it was a good day, for the most part.  The weird thing, this funny thing I mentioned as the lead-in, it happened really early this morning, before the sun came up, when the house was dark and everyone was still in bed.

I felt stuck.

I slept through the night almost without waking through the night – not typical for me – and when I did wake up, it was nearly time to get up (on a usual day), and my head quickly came to speed thinking about all the things I need to do.  And these just weren’t things I needed to do today or this weekend, it was EVERYTHING:

Work tasks, unfinished projects, upcoming changes, the garage full of stuff that need attention, the bills I need to pay, the tickets I need to sell, the yard work I need to do, the lists I need to make, the haircut I need, college tuition (mind you our kids are eight, six, and five currently), the last conversation my wife and I had last night, the dogs being neglected, the order I need to place for my mom, and on and on and…on.

You get the idea.

And I started to feel panicky, lying there in the dark, hours before a lot of people even start their day…and then I remembered…BREATH.  So, I took a few deep breaths.  That helped.  I should have prayed too, that would have helped.  But I didn’t.   I laid there; I thought some more; I thought about what I could do today, should do today, first, second, third.

I started a list in my head.   And I turned the corner.  Away from panic, toward a better attitude, the proper mindset.

Having an action plan helps.   Having a sense of the timing you want to execute to, that helps also. The main thing is, even as you let everything slow down, even as you purposely take a break, a pause, have a plan to ramp back up when its time.  Have a scheme for how you intend to re-engage, whenever it is you do.

The more you anticipate, and have a plan to execute, the less inertia will weigh you down, the more effective, and happier you will be.   And the more gratifying that retreat will be too.

Surprise! Thursday Retreat

[My view most of the day, above.]

Life is often about making the best of your circumstances. Here’s an example.

I woke out of a dead sleep before midnight yesterday evening. Our oldest kid was sick with stomach flu. I spent the rest of the night with her on the couch, up every couple hours to help her over the porcelain. Tough night.

Though work the next day was going to be pretty busy, my wife had less latitude to stay home, so I took the day off to be home with our daughter. She faired pretty well, and it seems (fingers crossed) to be a one-day bug.

And so today has basically been a day on the couch for me too. An unexpected day to do little. Turns out, that’s been pretty nice. Life’s pretty busy generally. And I suppose I’ve made it that way, in large part. So when an opportunity to do little comes up, rather than try to fill that time, I’ve embraced the little.

Early on I let my boss know I was going to be out, I got two tasks completed I had to for work — thankful for a laptop and a secure internet connection — and then set up the auto-reply and closed the computer.

After my wife left to drop off the other two kids to day care and then head to work herself, my sick friend and settled in. She was feeling a little better, watching TV, nibbling a piece of toast, so I took a nap next to her.

I read a few articles I wouldn’t otherwise have had time for. I dozed again. Then I read some more. I cooked a pot of beans. I wrote a short note to an editor. And I wrote this blog post.

I didn’t leave the house all day. I didn’t get in the car. We just hung out.

It was an unexpected day of retreat. And I tried to make the most of it, by doing little.

GOOD.

#halffull